Practicing Parents

It’s December: Time to Put on Your Oxygen Mask

~ by Dena Hobbs

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December is a tricky time for me. Though Advent is my favorite church season, December is the hardest month of the year for me emotionally and spiritually. How can this be? For starters, I am an introvert who likes quiet and meditation and December just gets rather loud and busy, doesn’t it? To make matters worse, I fight perfectionism and December is a month that will drive perfectionists to their knees.

This conundrum got exponentially worse when we had children. As long as it was just myself and my fellow introvert husband, I could push aside all the commercial glitz and avoid most places with overly loud, tacky Christmas songs (could someone erase the Christmas Shoes song from the universe, pretty please?)

But then the kids came and they were not content to sit with me and read Thomas Merton poetry and listen to Joni Mitchell and Sara McLaughlin Christmas songs. The next thing I knew I was singing along to The Wiggles Christmas album and trying to make Christmas fun and exciting for my kids.

And it almost killed me.

I had the flu one Christmas and a two-day migraine the next from all the stress running me down.

In this Facebook, Pinterest world, it seemed nothing I could ever do would be enough for my children. Our tree was not good enough, we didn’t have enough presents, we owned no cute matching Christmas outfits, my daughter had no Christmas bows, we had no elf on the shelf. In the Deep South where I live, this is dangerous ground. Your relatives worry behind your back at your lack of having Christmas together. They start making up for your shortcomings so your children will not be traumatized.

Failing at Christmas for a year or two, I decided to throw myself the other direction. We eschewed the Wiggles and Barney and watched only Charlie Brown Christmas for 25 days straight. We lit Advent candles and did Jesse trees. I wrote my own advent devotional in an attempt to get Advent right.

And it was no better.

For no matter which direction you take, perfectionism is a devouring monster that will suck you dry.

So finally, one year for Christmas I gave up on perfect.

I didn’t even really shoot for “good enough.” The tree went up when it went up and looked like it looked. We ate store bought cookies and take-out food in front of the TV. We read from the Bible when we remembered and if we didn’t, that was okay too. I let go of all my idealistic plans and just let it be what it was going to be.

And a Christmas miracle happened. I had time for myself.

I took the time I used to spend overachieving and beating myself up and used it to get massages and read for pleasure. I took walks by myself and spent time in quiet. If things got too crazy, I would put myself in time out and go to my room for 40 minutes (the added minute in your room for each year older you get policy definitely softened hitting middle age).

The next thing I knew it was the middle of December and I was still sane. And I began to realize maybe the best gift I could give my kids any year is a happy, healthy mom. I remembered Annie Lamott’s airplane metaphor of the parents putting the oxygen masks on themselves before they help their kids. I can’t make Christmas or Advent nice for my kids if I don’t put my own oxygen mask on first.

For me oxygen means reading and walks with dogs and staring quietly at trees losing their leaves.

I don’t know what your oxygen is, but this December I encourage you let go of the busyness and perfection and to put the oxygen mask on as often as possible. Make caring for yourself and your own spirit a priority.

When you are centered and well, whatever Advent and Christmas traditions you choose to celebrate will become a joy not a burden. And your joy and peace and love are always better than anything under the tree.

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Dena Douglas Hobbs is a proud December slacker. She still loves being the author of her advent devotional, Lighten the Darkness, and highly recommends you use it to put a quiet, reflective moment in your day. Christmas morning you can find her wearing her Meowy Christmas t-shirt in her poorly decorated living room laughing with her husband and kids.

 

 

 

 

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